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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

My Bat Mitzvah (in 500 words… or 5000)

Thursday night, like I said, I met with Rabbi Zedek to review my torah portion one last time. There was one phrase that was giving me trouble. It was “avodat hakodesh” whichi I was pronouncing “avodat hakadosh.” If you know Hebrew, you know that those are two different statements. If you are me, you start obsessing over those two words. Friday night after services I couldn’t fall asleep because on loop in my brain was “avodat hakodesh. avodat hakodesh. avodat hakodesh.”

When I got to that portion in the reading and got it right, Rabbi Z laughed. Out loud. Everyone heard. “Why did the rabbi laugh?” Cause I got my bad word right.

I’ve skipped ahead, though, haven’t I?

Friday afternoon I got a phone call from a number I didn’t have programmed into my cell phone. It was my aunt! She decided to come to the services and flew up from Texas to surprise me. I sent her to her hotel and bought all the fixin’s I needed for dinner and the salads I was making for kiddush. Then she and my friend Daliah came over for dinner. Okay, Daliah came over to chop veggies for me.

(If nothing else, this weekend was a testament to the lengths my friends will go to to keep me and mine fed. There was a lot of behind the scene and late night chopping that I was spared.)

My aunt and I went to services and I helped lead. I didn’t do any of the torah portion, but I did do the prayers I would be leading on shabbat morning. We had a lovely oneg with cookies that a number of friends had baked for me and then I hailed a cab, sent my aunt to her hotel, and went home to chop more fruit and write my d’var.

I’m not sure when I realized what was wrong with my d’var, but at midnight I was sitting at my kitchen counter with scissors, tape, index cards and a marker. The problem is that it was a nice essay, but it isn’t how i talk. Not at all.

So I added jokes and made an outline. The paragraphs I really liked, I kept. Everything else went into the trash. I was in bed, totally exhausted, by 1AM and then stared at the ceiling for another hour or two.

On shabbat morning, I went to get my coffee and a bagel (not knowing that would be the last thing I would eat for almost two days) and went to the store. I bought plates for the kiddush, kept drinking my coffee and went home. There I exchanged my coffee for the melon platter, israeli salad and fruit salad that I prepped the night before.

I took them to shul and ran into my cantor. “Leah! Why aren’t you dressed? Why are you in Jeans?!?!?” I’m not here yet, I told her, I’m not here. See you in 20 minutes.

I returned to the temple at 10ish in a more appropriate outfit. There was some kiddush wrangling, honors finding, getting my parents and sister and nephew and aunt welcomed. A last minute, “Will you please pass out these letters?” another last minute, “Yes, you will all open the ark. My bad.”

I got my digital recorder going, the lapel mic clipped on. A last minute trip to the bathroom. A hug, a wink, a sip of water and we started.

Then I found my zen place.

I led the hatzi kaddish and found my voice. I white knuckled the bimah (podium) and mumbled where I still couldn’t pronounce the Hebrew tongue twister. I sat down, I stood up, I made very little eye contact. A friend who feels more like an ex was there and that made me flush with adreneline. My nephew and sister were playing in the back with blogger friends. My parents were in the front (dragged there by Rabbi Z.)

Suddenly it was the Torah service. My boys (David, Robert, Scott and Greg) were my ark attendants, so there was a crowd with me at the ark. Rabbi Z put the Holocaust scroll in my arms, I said the sh’ma and off I went on the Torah procession.

Holy cow. There were a lot of people. I mean a lot. And I felt like I walked forever and just when I was almost done, Rabbi Z sent me to the back so Seth could touch the Torah. Mom was crying when I passed her, so I knew not to make eye contact with her again. Then we undressed the Torah and I put it on the bimah. I unrolled it, found my place and then gave a short explanation of what was going to take place in the portion.

Amy and Adam did the blessings and off I went on my first portion. I got it mostly right. I think I remembered to breath. I read the english. Rabbi Z took the yod, I hugged Amy and Adam. Then I did the Torah blessings and chanted my second portion.

That’s when I got “avodat hakodesh” right and Rabbi Z laughed. Out loud. Then I didn’t say the blessings. I forgot the tune and Shelly, my cantor, had to whisper in my ear. We rolled the Torah. Floyd came up to dress the Torah. Diane chanted haftorah and I sat down and finally did breathe.

We put the Torah away and then it was time for the d’var.

“Now it’s time for the hard part,” I said. ANd I think that is true. The hebrew, well, how many people could actually follow along with the whole portion? Not too many. But how many could follow along with my english sermon? Pretty much everyone.

I started with a joke. From last purim. That I wrote about the friend that feels a little like an ex. And people laughed. And I dove into the reorganized d’var. There were more laughs and I remembered most of the words I needed to. I even made an unplanned joke about a Hebrew word.

And I finished and sat down.

Then Rabbi Z got up for his rebutal. He was incredibly generous in his kind words about me. He told one of my favorite stories about a convert in Alaska and my favorite quote about conversion. “The converts of a generation are witness to a generation.”

Then it was time for the priestly benediction and I swear, I swear, that I did not pinch his hands. He gave me the blessing in Hebrew, but when he got to the english he got choked up. That’s when the hankies came out in the whole room. If I hadn’t been so full of adreneline, I might have started to cry. (Cry I did, but not until about 2 in the morning when I finally stopped moving long enough to do so.)

The cantor joined us at the open ark for aleinu. Then we were back at our respective bimahs for Kaddish, the closing song, a lot of extra blessings and a few kind words from my friend Diane on behalf of the sisterhood.

I hugged a lot of people and tried to say hello and thank you to everyone who was there. No small feat. WHen my nephew was worn out and I was done shaking babies and kissing hands, we gathered the flowers and the cards and presents and headed home for an afternoon of family time.

It was a great afternoon with pizza, Henry being amazing, hanging out with my sister so close to our birthday, and drinking diet coke. Too soon it was time to put them in the car to head back home and I got into the shower to get ready for the party.

The party was amazing. The first words out of my mouth were, “Holy shit!” when I saw the transformation of Ted & Dondi’s house into party central. A beautiful kosher, veg, gluten free buffet. Candles everywhere. Wine glasses. Coffee brewing. And already a number of people were there.

We estimated that 40 people or so were there. It was amazing. I made everyone wear nametags and it worked. Everyone laughed and mingled and ate and ate and ate. Amy worked with my sister behind my back to get the recipe for my favorite cake. I tried to say hello to everyone, but at some point had to slip out for fresh air.

We danced hora (yes, at midnight). We ate birthday cake. There was singing and much hugging. Everyone had an amazing time. I have a great group of friends, I really do. I’m quite blessed.

I was in bed by 3:45 or so. Up again at 9AM for meetings at the synagogue. The early afternoon I spent with family. Then I broke down. I was finally alone and I just needed a good cry and a good meal. When I get nervous, I can’t eat. Let me tell you that a week of stress leading up to the bat mitzvah–no eating. I got in the shower and cried, then met my aunt for dinner. I was in bed my 9:30 PM and asleep by midnight.

I have a million thank you notes to write. 15 new books to read. A tzedaka box to start using. Leftovers to eat. Oh… and I still need to turn 30.

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